Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 5:55 am 
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One last fine turn before leaving

Character actor John Carroll Lynch's directorial debut, Lucky, gives character actor and Hollywood cult figure Harry Dean Stanton his second starring role (after Wim Wenders' 1985 Paris, Texas). It's a zen meditation on life and death focused on a scrawny old man close to Harry Dean himself, except he lives on the edge of a desert, in a little town. The movie arrives ironically, or perhaps appropriately, timed. Lucky, the movie protagonist, is reminded of, and thinks about, his coming end. The actor himself passed away September 15th, aged 91. Nice timing for a consummate performer whose restraint and unique look made him memorable in so many authentic minor roles. This, appropriately, is a very low keyed film. It is a fitting final tribute.

Mike D'Angelo of AVClub calls Lucky " a remarkable gift to fans and cinephiles" and "a` first-rate showcase" for Harry Dean's special talents. In fact, he has been in better movies, but it is unfair to call this as Richard Brody does in The New Yorker, a "maudlin drama" that "mainly renders" Harry Dean's "grit and wisdom wholesome and cute." It is true that everybody in town adores him, and there is some cuteness in the bar where Lucky hangs out every day. But Lucky and Lucky confront the end. The "plotless" plot forces him to, as we shall see, and a movie can't be called cheery where the character gets up the the sound of Johnny Cash singing "I See a Darkness."

Lucky stares at his digital alarm blinking red doon and passes out. The doctor tell him there's nothing wrong at all - except that he's old, and sooner or later something will stop. This starts the film on a gentle contemplation of death.

His life thinly masks Lucky's essential loneliness, and remember, this is a thinly masked version of Stanton, who long lived alone, and like Lucky never married and has no children. His days are like the book my grandmother once told me about, comparing it to her own life in her nineties, where the main character's diary reported "got up, washed, and went to bed." It's not quite that bad, but the movie makes clear the dreary sameness of dawns and days. Lucky gets up, does a touch of yoga-ish moving, smokes a cigarette, waters a cactus in his undies (the poster's signature image), goes to the diner, has coffee, does his daily crossword, comes home and watches game shows.

But all this depicts a quiet stoicism, style, attitude, what made him the friend of Sam Peckinpah, John Milius, David Lynch, and Monte Hellman, and was also close friends with Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson, Sam Peckinpah, John Milius, David Lynch, Monte Hellman et many alii, and the pet of Hollywood youth cults like the Eighties Brat Pack for whom he was their "spiritual father," the cool hard drinking, chain smoking, tale-telling cynic who was the safe dad not to have. Harry Dean was real on screen. He just was, and that was real. And he does it in every scene here.

Lucky should be seen for all fans of cult actors. And then the celebration of Harry Dean Stanton's offbeat career begins. The revamped Quad Cinema in Manhattan is staging a 21-film retrospective, fittingly titled "Also Starring Harry Dean Stanton", of his work. It will include B. L. Norton’s Cisco Pike, Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter Ridley Scott’s Alien and Howard Deutch’s Pretty in Pink, as well as his first central role in Alex Cox’s dark 1984 Repo Man and his big one, written for him by the late Sam Shepard, as a drifter longing to reunite with family in Wim Wenders' aforementioned Paris, Texas. But there are many more.

Lucky, 88 mins, debuted at SxSW, also Locarno; nearly 30 festivals. US release from 29 Sept. 2017. In NYC at Quad, Lincoln PLaza, and BAM.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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